Warner Bros. // 1989 // 589 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // August 23rd, 2006
"Duty calls day or night, summer or winter." -- James Herriot
Sometimes it pays not to advertise.
Veterinarian James Alfred Wight used the pen name James Herriot for his fictionalized memoir, If Only They Could Talk, because he was concerned about advertising prohibitions for veterinarians. Alf's 1970 volume was a success, first appearing Stateside in a combined volume with its first sequel as All Creatures Great and Small. Thirsk, the English town where Wight practiced, became known to the world as Darrowby.
The TV series All Creatures Great and Small had a fairly long run -- in fits and starts -- on the BBC, starting in 1978 and ending in 1990. It made stars of Christopher Timothy, who plays Herriot, and Peter Davison (Doctor Who), who played Tristan Farnon (but eventually left the Yorkshire practice to make time-and-space house calls).
The episodes here first aired in the fall of 1989. They star Christopher Timothy as James Herriot and Robert Hardy (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) as Siegfried Farnon, his wily senior partner. As the series begins, they have another partner, Calum Buchanan (John McGlynn, Gangs of New York), who resides above the surgery at Skeldale Hall. Regular characters also include Helen Herriot (Lynda Bellingham, Martin Chuzzlewit) and Calum's fiancee Dierdre (Andrea Gibb). Peter Davison makes a brief return visit as Tristan to make sure the bridegroom has a jolly good hangover in "The Call of the Wild."
Series 6, the penultimate series of the show, includes 12 episodes set in 1952:
* "Here and There"
With their wives away in London, Siegfried suggests that he and James stay at Skeldale with bachelor Calum. Meanwhile, cowhand Professor Baz is creating a stir with his skills at gymnastics, cards, and art. Where's the newcomer from? "Here and there," he says.
* "The Course of True Love"
Herriott meets up with an old friend, retired farmer Jim Potts, when Potts moves into a nearby cottage. Calum plans a perfect romantic evening with Dierdre, even learning one of Helen Herriott's best recipes to impress his date, but the best-laid plans of veterinaries oft go asunder.
* "The Call of the Wild"
Calum's article on North American wildlife lands him a plum job offer in Nova Scotia. Siegfried overhears him and Dierdre talking about the job and thinks Calum's upset because Siegfried objected to him bringing wild otters back to the surgery for treatment.
* "The Nelson Touch"
"The Nelson Touch" is a new outlook on veterinary medicine -- minding the animal owners as well as the creatures. It comes in handy for Siegfried when he realizes that a dog owner may have had a stroke without knowing it, but James's skill at picking pools also impresses the local farmers.
* "Blood and Water"
Herriot meets the "heavenly twins," two brothers whose relationship isn't exactly brotherly. One asks him to do an autopsy on a rabbit which he suspects his brother poisoned. Meanwhile, Siegfried enlists temporary help from Willy, a "teetotal." He's perfect, the senior vet says, especially since a teetotal won't mind missing out on a lunchtime pint at the pub to mind the surgery.
* "Where Sheep May Safely Graze"
When widowed David Braithwaite decides to sell his farm, Siegfried, James, and Helen are concerned. Their worries grow when Braithwaite's dog, sold to an out-of-towner, travels for miles, risking its life, to return to him, but he doesn't want to see the dog again. Meanwhile, the cat in the candy shop has taken ill without an apparent cause -- and the customers are concerned.
* "The New World"
Siegfried's looking to upgrade the client roster and has made poaching Lady Hulton from rival vet Granville Bennett his top goal. Helen thinks his ideas for redecorating the "funny old place" are more suitable for a "discreetly expensive hotel," though. Meanwhile, James debates whether to perform a tricky operation to fix a lame terrier's leg.
* "Mending Fences"
David and Jennie are "two otherwise perfectly sensible people," as Siegfried puts it, but they just can't get along with each other, even though they will soon share a grandchild. It seems that the feud dates back to the time Jennie rejected David -- when they were both 12. While a human birth can't bring them together, the birth of a horse might end the feud.
* "Big Fish, Little Fish"
James is getting ready to play in Darrowby's big cricket match, with a lot of local pride riding on the match. How did fish get involved? A young boy brings Siegfried his smallest patient yet and ends up accompanying the senior vet on his rounds.
* "In Whom We Trust"
Gypsy worker Roddy returns to Darrowby for summer work. When his dog becomes a suspect in raiding a sheep farm, the animal faces being put to sleep -- unless Siegfried and James can find the real canine culprit.
* "The Rough and The Smooth"
Siegfried is organizing his life with the help of a new pocket diary. A demonstration of how it helps him deal with an absent-minded client is enough for James -- until they see how things can go wrong when Siegfried mislays the diary.
* "The Best Time"
By 1952, World War II may be over but the wounds haven't healed for Grandma Clarke, who's hostile toward a new shepherd, an Italian POW who stayed on in Yorkshire. It turns out, though, that the former soldier has his own demons to battle, since "all bombs speak the same language." Siegfried's on hand to help them both find resolution to their grief in an season finale that adds more dramatic heft than usual.
If you haven't already read anything by James Herriot, the episode descriptions should give you a picture of All Creatures Great and Small. While the writers can milk a cat's hairball for a little dramatic tension, the show is more about the interesting rural Yorkshire characters Herriot meets than about the animals, though the creatures are present in almost every scene. An episode usually serves up small slices of Yorkshire life, washed down with a little romance and a few pints at the Drovers, the pub around which Darrowby life centers. It's a heartwarming show, the sort that British TV has got down to a science.
Christopher Timothy makes a good Herriot, dedicated but with a playful streak that helps him deal with offbeat situations (like a monkey being let loose in the surgery). He cares about his animal and human charges, going beyond mere veterinary medicine to serve as a confidant and counselor. But he can still be exasperated when a farmer doesn't know what "ataxic" means (in case you'd be stumped there, too, it's when a pig staggers around like it's drunk; since pigs don't go to the Drovers, it's not a good thing.). Lydia Bellingham plays Helen as a devoted wife who's almost as much a part of the practice as partner Siegfried, not just in knowing her way around the surgery to fill a prescription but in counseling human clients. The comic touches are provided by Robert Hardy as Siegfried, who can rebuke James for adopting another dog, then be touched and adopt one himself, or organize a male bonding week, then be mesmerized by the newfangled TV set. Siegfried's role isn't purely comic; Hardy makes it clear that the senior partner is able and as devoted as Herriot.
The show stirs in a subtle dose of nostalgia, with period music playing constantly on the radio in the Herriot home. Vintage Cadbury signs are a sweet grace note in an episode revolving around the local sweets shop, and the start of the new Elizabethan age plays a big role in one episode, with ceremonial clips replacing the show's standard closing. Animal lovers will also be tickled by the show's animal-centric world view: you might find dogs hanging out at the Drovers and you regularly see pets trotting along beside their people.
The videotaped production has some technical flaws, with faces indistinct in the natural light and some occasionally shaky camerawork as the actors are chasing around farm animals. As befitting a show with the name All Creatures Great and Small, the score has a gentle majesty that evokes hymns; it comes through with no problems here.
As for extras, you get a "Who's Who in the Cast," but information about the real James Herriot and his countryside would be helpful.
The show isn't CSI by any means, but there's always the suggestion of veterinary realities -- the horse that dies in childbirth, dead or wounded animals, and a monkey's case of diarrhea, to name just a few. These elements are handled tastefully and mostly off-camera. The show is done gently enough that it's suitable for all ages, but it is aimed more toward an audience that might remember what an old-time candy shop looked like or the start of the Elizabethan age with fondness.
If you're looking for gentle, heartwarming stories, All Creatures Great and Small is a safe blind buy. The rural veterinarian's life makes a good subject for this sort of TV series, since it lets its protagonist into the lives of both humans and animals.
Not guilty. Now let's close the surgery and nip off to the Drovers for a pint and a thick beef sandwich.
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 589 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Who's Who in the Cast
* Wikipedia on James Herriot